“The Lake at Hakone” by Utagawa Hiroshige
Written by Ben Burke
At the bottom of each lake there sits a ghost. A spirit. A being variously feared and loved and wondered about.
The one in the lake at Hakone was unremarkable- they sat on the bed of the lake right in the center, softly caressed by the sand spread about their pelvis and chest and between their toes. Content for thousands of years to watch the dance of sunlight as the star travelled above the lake every day. Excited by the occasional variety of some rain, refreshing the water and clouding their line of sight to the top.
But lulling them to sleep.
The patter of rain upon the liquid ceiling of their sandy dwelling was relaxing in that it was a constant auditory stimulation but cooling to the touch. A multi-sensory grey noise.
And it was during one of these rains that the child fell, to the bottom of the lake where the god at the lake at Hakone lay.
The god hugged the child close and kissed her forehead- and for the first time in millennia stood up off of the bed of the lake and surrounded themself and the child in a bubble.
She coughed for a moment and tentatively took a breath.
The god felt flustered for a moment, never having seen a human so close. They had only seen feet and legs and the occasional diving head, all several strong strokes away from the bottom where they lay. There was a redness in their cheeks, below the colorful geometric markings around their humanoid eyes that differentiated and anointed them from those who swam in their lake. As the child lacked any covering above her belly, she shivered and wrapped her arms around her bare shoulders.
The god spoke. I couldn’t tell you what they said, nor could the child to which they spoke, for more reasons than one. But chief among those was a linguistic barrier.
The child spoke back, and my having spoken with the child of this experience years following can also tell you nothing of the dialogue- a memory lost with youth.
But there was a kinship- not unlike that between parent and offspring.
The god, noting the child’s lack of clothing and apparent cold, put their hands to the Earth and harnessed the heat from the core to warm the bubble in which they both stood.
The child felt this and her shivering ceased. She sat upon the now dry and warm sand and relaxed, then reached for the god’s hand.
The pair shared a song with each other.
Now, I have referred to this child in the manner that I have for posterity’s sake- though perhaps I was wrong to do so. Indeed this child would grow up to be my brother-in-arms. And as he lay slain in an uncharacteristically beautiful meadow- filled with yellow flowers frighteningly enhanced in their beauty on account of the blood that stained their petals- he recounted this story to me and sang the song he did with the serenity of a divine prayer.
Upon hearing the haunting melody, it was as though the familial union he shared with god of the lake at Hakone was given to me.
And so I followed the song now persistent in my stream of thought- and as I grew closer to the lake the tune grew louder, muffled eventually only by a descent into a dark blue water. The mountains around the lake loomed higher and rounder and more colorful than any I had ever seen- and I couldn’t shake the notion that the peaks were inching closer to the lake to hear the music that emanated from it.
I stripped myself of my shirt and shoes and dove into the water. As I descended, I saw my brother and the god, anticipation on their faces as I grew closer.
Note from the Author
It has been a long time since I last wrote fiction, having writers’ block every time I’ve tried to pen a story. Seeing this painting and the makeup look that went with it sparked the idea in my mind of deities for individual bodies of water and the story unfolded from there.
As for my choice to use singular they in reference to the deity, I suppose I can simply say that to me there has always been something distinctly naturalistic and non-binary about the notion of divinity. I had always wanted to include singular they in a story I wrote and writing about a lake-deity without the cultural constraints of humanity afforded me the opportunity.
I’m not entirely certain what the takeaway from this story should be - I suppose that’s up to each individual reader to decide. I can simply say that this is a story about nature, divinity, individuality, and familial connection. I hope that readers can find something worthwhile within it.